Handguns > Semi-Auto

The Fundamentals of Handgun Shooting

Start with the basics to become an expert.


It must be easy to shoot a handgun. You just point and pull the trigger, right? They do it all the time on TV and in the movies, so it can't be that difficult. While the premise of that sentence might be correct—shooting isn't that difficult—shooting well isn't as easy as Hollywood makes it seem. You can't just pick up a handgun, point, pull the trigger and expect to hit the target.

As with any other skilled activity, such as golf or baseball, a beginner has to start with the fundamentals to build a good foundation. After learning the basics, skills can be expanded and refined. A first-time golfer doesn't pick up a club and walk onto the Augusta National's fairway to compete in the Masters tournament, and a new shooter doesn't pick up a 1911 and start busting the 10-ring on targets. The fundamentals must be first mastered, and the fundamentals of shooting begin with safety.

The Three "ALWAYS" Rules
Since 1871, the National Rifle Association has promoted the marksmanship and safety of firearms. Over the years, NRA has developed concise rules for the safe use of firearms. While there are many specific principles of gun use, the three fundamental rules for safe gun handling have remained the same.
ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Following these three rules will prevent anyone from getting hurt in the unlikely event of an unintentional discharge of a firearm. These rules are the first thing a new shooter must learn before picking up a firearm, and he or she must follow the Three ALWAYS at all times.

Building the Basics
All shooters begin at the same place—the basics. Even professional shooters start with the fundamentals before expanding their skills and becoming champions. Once the fundamentals are mastered, more advanced techniques can be attempted such as NRA Pistol and Personal Protection classes and even shooting competitions.

Even advanced shooters can benefit from practice of the fundamentals. Athletes often return to the fundamentals; shooters should follow their example. The basics of handgun shooting are:

Grip refers to how the gun is held. Whether one- or two-handed, the grip should be high, firm and consistent. Create a good grip by placing the backstrap in the web of the hand and wrapping the fingers around the stock. For the two-handed grip, bring the support hand around the front of the grip so that the fingers of both hands overlap.

Aiming determines the point of impact and consists of sight alignment and sight picture. The proper way to aim is to align the front sight at the same height and centered with the back sight and pictured against the target with the eyes' focused on the front sight.

Breath Control minimizes gun movement. Practice by taking a deep breath, letting out half and holding it during the shot.

Hold Control is holding the gun motionless while aiming and firing through a firm grip and a stable shooting position. Physical fitness and muscle tone is important for hold control.

Trigger Control is squeezing the trigger without moving the sights by gradually increasing pressure to the trigger in a way that the shot comes as a surprise. If you know when the gun will fire, you'll very likely miss the target.

Follow Through ensures a good shot by implementing all shooting fundamentals before, during and after the shot the same way every time. While it might take years to master, eventually this becomes almost instinct.

Everyone, regardless of activity or skill level, begins with the fundamentals. Most learn from parents, grandparents or trusted friends, but some seek out professional training.

The NRA has trained and certified thousands of firearms instructors all across the United States, and developed firearm courses, with major emphasis on safety, for shooters of all skill levels from beginner to advance. These instructors promote safe and ethical use of firearms and are a major part of the NRA's original mission. In fact, it is its mission.


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2 Responses to The Fundamentals of Handgun Shooting

Eric wrote:
May 29, 2013

Thank You I bought a new weapon and I know it is me not the pistol that needs a return to basics. I agree a laser changes your mechanics but the basics always need to be returned to if you really want to master the skill of shooting well.

Don Wright wrote:
October 23, 2010

What ever ones skill level is the basic 3 has become ingrained in your mind. I have to admit that having a lazer on my Glock has changed my procedure for acquiring my intended target. Good Article.